A welcome mat for migrants
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
Facing a surge of asylum seekers illegally pouring into Quebec from the United States, the Canadian government took necessary and decisive action this week. It ordered in the army. But the military deployment was not, thankfully, sent out in tanks or to erect barbed wire fences to block the hundreds of migrants arriving daily.
The soldiers were there to pitch tents to temporarily shelter up to 500 people and to hand out lunch.
The servicemen and servicewomen were building a special reception centre that will direct the new arrivals — mostly Haitians — to a processing centre nearby, and from there to emergency accommodations in Montreal.
Eventually, after an official hearing, some of the migrants will be accepted into Canada as refugees while others will be rejected and sent back to the U.S.
This is how Canada responds to an unforeseen and challenging influx of foreign nationals in 2017 — with humanity, compassion, meticulously organized assistance but always an insistence that the borders and laws of this country will be respected.
In a world where literally millions of people are on the move fleeing war, famine, poverty and political repression, this is how wealthy, advanced nations should behave.
This summer’s crush of asylum seekers entering Quebec from New York State at irregular crossings, like a similar surge in Manitoba last winter, is largely the result of the blatant hostility facing migrants in America in the unsettling era of Donald Trump.
In the first few months of his presidency, Trump has banned immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, planned to slash the number of newcomers to the U.S. and persisted with the bizarre fantasy of a wall along the Mexican border.
One of the main reasons so many Haitians are now entering Canada is that Trump is ending a special, temporary protected status for 58,000 Haitians in the U.S., and many of those people fear returning to their homeland.
While the asylum-seekers crossing over from New York are straining the resources of the federal and Quebec governments, Canada is not yet dealing with an uncontrollable crisis. This country is managing very well, thank you. Equally heartening is the lack of any noticeable public backlash to these migrants.
Perhaps this reflects a growing awareness of the plight of people in many other countries and our responsibility to help.
Perhaps public opinion has been shaped by the successful settlement of roughly 46,000 Syrian refugees in Canada since 2015.
Perhaps we see our choices more clearly with the xenophobic Trump in the White House.
Even so, in the coming days Ottawa should announce plans for providing permanent or semi-permanent settlement for the migrants, as well as training in language and job hunting for those accepted as refugees.
The federal government must also be prepared if the current flow of asylum seekers — recently between 250 and 300 a day — continues into the fall. Deciding who gets to stay is just the first step. Helping them successfully settle into Canada and become Canadians is the second and even greater challenge.